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Best Famous Robert Duncan Poems

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by David Lehman | |

Sestina

 for Jim Cummins 

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
twin.
Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform.
Donna dressed like Wallace Stevens in a seersucker summer suit.
To town came Ted Berrigan, saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell.
" But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's latest: the Pulitzer.
A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton.
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, pour something into Donna's drink.
"In the Walt Whitman Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, pulling on a Chesterfield.
Everyone laughed, except T.
S.
Eliot.
I asked for directions.
"You turn right on Gertrude Stein, then bear left.
Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine and you're there," Jim said.
When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan with cigarette ash in his beard.
Graffiti about Anne Sexton decorated the men's room walls.
Beth had bought a quart of Walt Whitman.
Donna looked blank.
"Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell.
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell.
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as Walt Whitman.
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura of Philip Levine.
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan.
" Donna was candid.
"When the spirit of Ted Berrigan comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, while he stood dejected at the xerox machine.
Anne Sexton came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine.
The cop read him the riot act.
"I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt Whitman.
" Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman.
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan.
" The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, up a point and a half on strong earnings.
Marvin Bell ended the day unchanged.
Analyst Richard Howard recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, not both.
Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.


by Robert Duncan | |

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow

 as if it were a scene made-up by the mind, 
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart, 
an eternal pasture folded in all thought 
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light 
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.
Wherefrom fall all architectures I am I say are likenesses of the First Beloved whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.
She it is Queen Under The Hill whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words that is a field folded.
It is only a dream of the grass blowing east against the source of the sun in an hour before the sun's going down whose secret we see in a children's game of ring a round of roses told.
Often I am permitted to return to a meadow as if it were a given property of the mind that certain bounds hold against chaos, that is a place of first permission, everlasting omen of what is.


by Robert Duncan | |

My Mother Would Be a Falconress

 My mother would be a falconress,
And I, her gay falcon treading her wrist,
would fly to bring back
from the blue of the sky to her, bleeding, a prize, 
where I dream in my little hood with many bells 
jangling when I'd turn my head.
My mother would be a falconress, and she sends me as far as her will goes.
She lets me ride to the end of her curb where I fall back in anguish.
I dread that she will cast me away, for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.
She would bring down the little birds.
And I would bring down the little birds.
When will she let me bring down the little birds, pierced from their flight with their necks broken, their heads like flowers limp from the stem? I tread my mother's wrist and would draw blood.
Behind the little hood my eyes are hooded.
I have gone back into my hooded silence, talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.
For she has muffled my dreams in the hood she has made me, sewn round with bells, jangling when I move.
She rides with her little falcon upon her wrist.
She uses a barb that brings me to cower.
She sends me abroad to try my wings and I come back to her.
I would bring down the little birds to her I may not tear into, I must bring back perfectly.
I tear at her wrist with my beak to draw blood, and her eye holds me, anguisht, terrifying.
She draws a limit to my flight.
Never beyond my sight, she says.
She trains me to fetch and to limit myself in fetching.
She rewards me with meat for my dinner.
But I must never eat what she sends me to bring her.
Yet it would have been beautiful, if she would have carried me, always, in a little hood with the bells ringing, at her wrist, and her riding to the great falcon hunt, and me flying up to the curb of my heart from her heart to bring down the skylark from the blue to her feet, straining, and then released for the flight.
My mother would be a falconress, and I her gerfalcon raised at her will, from her wrist sent flying, as if I were her own pride, as if her pride knew no limits, as if her mind sought in me flight beyond the horizon.
Ah, but high, high in the air I flew.
And far, far beyond the curb of her will, were the blue hills where the falcons nest.
And then I saw west to the dying sun-- it seemd my human soul went down in flames.
I tore at her wrist, at the hold she had for me, until the blood ran hot and I heard her cry out, far, far beyond the curb of her will to horizons of stars beyond the ringing hills of the world where the falcons nest I saw, and I tore at her wrist with my savage beak.
I flew, as if sight flew from the anguish in her eye beyond her sight, sent from my striking loose, from the cruel strike at her wrist, striking out from the blood to be free of her.
My mother would be a falconress, and even now, years after this, when the wounds I left her had surely heald, and the woman is dead, her fierce eyes closed, and if her heart were broken, it is stilld I would be a falcon and go free.
I tread her wrist and wear the hood, talking to myself, and would draw blood.


by Robert Duncan | |

The Song of the Borderguard

 The man with his lion under the shed of wars
sheds his belief as if he shed tears.
The sound of words waits - a barbarian host at the borderline of sense.
The enamord guards desert their posts harkening to the lion-smell of a poem that rings in their ears.
-Dreams, a certain guard said were never designd so to re-arrange an empire.
Along about six o'clock I take out my guitar and sing to a lion who sleeps like a line of poetry in the shed of wars.
The man shedding his belief knows that the lion is not asleep, does not dream, is never asleep, is a wide-awake poem waiting like a lover for the disrobing of the guard; the beautil boundaries of the empire naked, rapt round in the smell of a lion.
(The barbarians have passt over the significant phrase) -When I was asleep, a certain guard says, a man shed his clothes as if he shed tears and appeard as a lonely lion waiting for a song under the shed-roof of wars.
I sang the song that he waited to hear, I, the Prize-Winner, the Poet Acclaimd.
Dear, Dear, Dear, Dear, I sang, believe, believe, believe, believe.
The shed of wars is splendid as the sky, houses our waiting like a pure song housing in its words the lion-smell of the beloved disrobed.
I sang: believe, believe, believe.
I the guard because of my guitar belive.
I am the certain guard, certain of the Beloved, certain of the lion, certain of the Empire.
I with my guitar.
Dear, Dear, Dear, Dear, I sing.
I, the Prize-Winner, the Poet on Guard.
The borderlines of sense in the morning light are naked as a line of poetry in a war.


by Robert Burns | |

55. The Twa Herds; or The Holy Tulyie

 O A’ ye pious godly flocks,
Weel fed on pastures orthodox,
Wha now will keep you frae the fox,
 Or worrying tykes?
Or wha will tent the waifs an’ crocks,
 About the dykes?


The twa best herds in a’ the wast,
The e’er ga’e gospel horn a blast
These five an’ twenty simmers past—
 Oh, dool to tell!
Hae had a bitter black out-cast
 Atween themsel’.
O, Moddie, 1 man, an’ wordy Russell, 2 How could you raise so vile a bustle; Ye’ll see how New-Light herds will whistle, An’ think it fine! The L—’s cause ne’er gat sic a twistle, Sin’ I hae min’.
O, sirs! whae’er wad hae expeckit Your duty ye wad sae negleckit, Ye wha were ne’er by lairds respeckit To wear the plaid; But by the brutes themselves eleckit, To be their guide.
What flock wi’ Moodie’s flock could rank?— Sae hale and hearty every shank! Nae poison’d soor Arminian stank He let them taste; Frae Calvin’s well, aye clear, drank,— O, sic a feast! The thummart, willcat, brock, an’ tod, Weel kend his voice thro’ a’ the wood, He smell’d their ilka hole an’ road, Baith out an in; An’ weel he lik’d to shed their bluid, An’ sell their skin.
What herd like Russell tell’d his tale; His voice was heard thro’ muir and dale, He kenn’d the L—’s sheep, ilka tail, Owre a’ the height; An’ saw gin they were sick or hale, At the first sight.
He fine a mangy sheep could scrub, Or nobly fling the gospel club, And New-Light herds could nicely drub Or pay their skin; Could shake them o’er the burning dub, Or heave them in.
Sic twa-O! do I live to see’t?— Sic famous twa should disagree’t, And names, like “villain,” “hypocrite,” Ilk ither gi’en, While New-Light herds, wi’ laughin spite, Say neither’s liein! A’ ye wha tent the gospel fauld, There’s Duncan 3 deep, an’ Peebles 4 shaul, But chiefly thou, apostle Auld, 5 We trust in thee, That thou wilt work them, het an’ cauld, Till they agree.
Consider, sirs, how we’re beset; There’s scarce a new herd that we get, But comes frae ’mang that cursed set, I winna name; I hope frae heav’n to see them yet In fiery flame.
Dalrymple 6 has been lang our fae, M’Gill 7 has wrought us meikle wae, An’ that curs’d rascal ca’d M’Quhae, 8 And baith the Shaws, 9 That aft hae made us black an’ blae, Wi’ vengefu’ paws.
Auld Wodrow 10 lang has hatch’d mischief; We thought aye death wad bring relief; But he has gotten, to our grief, Ane to succeed him, A chield wha’ 11 soundly buff our beef; I meikle dread him.
And mony a ane that I could tell, Wha fain wad openly rebel, Forby turn-coats amang oursel’, There’s Smith 12 for ane; I doubt he’s but a grey nick quill, An’ that ye’ll fin’.
O! a’ ye flocks o’er a, the hills, By mosses, meadows, moors, and fells, Come, join your counsel and your skills To cowe the lairds, An’ get the brutes the power themsel’s To choose their herds.
Then Orthodoxy yet may prance, An’ Learning in a woody dance, An’ that fell cur ca’d Common Sense, That bites sae sair, Be banished o’er the sea to France: Let him bark there.
Then Shaw’s an’ D’rymple’s eloquence, M’Gill’s close nervous excellence M’Quhae’s pathetic manly sense, An’ guid M’Math, Wi’ Smith, wha thro’ the heart can glance, May a’ pack aff.
Note 1.
Rev.
Mr.
Moodie of Riccarton.
[back] Note 2.
Rev.
John Russell of Kilmarnock.
[back] Note 3.
Robert Duncan of Dundonald.
[back] Note 4.
Rev.
Wm.
Peebles of Newton-on-Ayr.
[back] Note 5.
Rev.
Wm.
Auld of Mauchline.
[back] Note 6.
Rev.
Dr.
Dalrymple of Ayr.
[back] Note 7.
Rev.
Wm.
M’Gill, colleague of Dr.
Dalrymple.
[back] Note 8.
Minister of St.
Quivox.
[back] Note 9.
Dr.
Andrew Shaw of Craigie, and Dr.
David Shaw of Coylton.
[back] Note 10.
Dr.
Peter Wodrow of Tarbolton.
[back] Note 11.
Rev.
John M’Math, a young assistant and successor to Wodrow.
[back] Note 12.
Rev.
George Smith of Galston.
[back]